The deities that have been and still are worshiped by the nations are human creations, the products of imperfect, “empty-headed” men, who “turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.” (Ro 1:21-23) It is, therefore, not surprising to note that these deities mirror the very characteristics and weaknesses of their imperfect worshipers. One Hebrew term used to refer to idols or false gods literally means “valueless thing” or “worthless thing.”—Le 19:4; Isa 2:20.
The Bible refers to Satan the Devil as “the god of this system of things.” (2Co 4:4) That Satan is the “god” there referred to is clearly indicated later in verse 4 where it says that this god “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” At Revelation 12:9 he is said to be “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” Satan’s control over the present system of things, including its governments, was indicated when he offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” in exchange for “an act of worship.”—Mt 4:8, 9.
The worshipful adoration that men direct toward their idol-gods actually goes “to demons, and not to God.” (1Co 10:20; Ps 106:36, 37) Jehovah God requires exclusive devotion. (Isa 42:8) The one who worships an idol-god denies the true God and thus serves the interests of Jehovah’s chief Adversary, Satan, and his demons.
Although the Bible makes reference to a number of gods and goddesses of ancient peoples, it is not always possible to identify such gods specifically.
Origin of Gods and Goddesses. The striking similarity readily observable when comparing the gods and goddesses of ancient peoples can hardly be attributed to chance. Concerning this, J. Garnier writes: “Not merely Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, but also the Hindus, the Buddhists of China and of Thibet, the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans and Peruvians, the Aborigines of Australia, and even the savages of the South Sea Islands, must have all derived their religious ideas from a common source and a common centre. Everywhere we find the most startling coincidences in rites, ceremonies, customs, traditions, and in the names and relations of their respective gods and goddesses.”—The Worship of the Dead, London, 1904, p. 3.
The evidence of Scripture points to the land of Shinar as the post-Flood birthplace of false religious concepts. Undoubtedly under the direction of Nimrod, “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah,” the building of the city of Babel and its tower, likely a ziggurat to be used for false worship, began. This building project was undertaken, not to bring honor to Jehovah God, but for the self-glorification of the builders, who desired to make “a celebrated name” for themselves. Also, it was in direct opposition to God’s purpose, which was for mankind to spread about in the earth. The Almighty frustrated the plans of these builders by confusing their language. No longer being able to understand one another, they gradually left off building the city and were scattered. (Ge 10:8-10; 11:2-9) However, Nimrod apparently remained at Babel and expanded his dominion, founding the first Babylonian Empire.—Ge 10:11, 12.
As for the scattered people, wherever they went they carried their false religion with them, to be practiced under new terms and in their new language and new locations. The people were scattered in the days of Peleg, who was born about a century after the Deluge and died at the age of 239. Since both Noah and his son Shem outlived Peleg, the dispersal took place at a time when the facts about earlier events, such as the Flood, were known. (Ge 9:28; 10:25; 11:10-19) This knowledge undoubtedly lingered in some form in the memory of the dispersed people. Indicative of this is the fact that the mythologies of the ancients echo various parts of the Biblical record, but in a distorted, polytheistic form. The legends depict certain gods as serpent slayers; also, the religions of many ancient peoples included the worship of a god placed in the role of a benefactor who dies a violent death on earth and then is restored to life. This may suggest that such a god was actually a deified human wrongly viewed as being the ‘promised seed.’ (Compare Ge 3:15.) The myths tell of the love affairs had by gods and earthly women and of the heroic deeds of their hybrid offspring. (Compare Ge 6:1, 2, 4; Jude 6.) There is hardly a nation on the earth that does not have a legend concerning a global flood, and traces of the tower-building account are likewise to be found in the legends of mankind.
Babylonian Deities. After the death of Nimrod, the Babylonians reasonably would have been inclined to hold him in high regard as the founder and builder and first king of their city and as the organizer of the original Babylonian Empire. Tradition has it that Nimrod died a violent death. Since the god Marduk (Merodach) was regarded as the founder of Babylon, it has been suggested by some that Marduk represents the deified Nimrod. However, the opinions of scholars as to the identification of deities with specific humans are quite varied.
With the passage of time, the gods of the first Babylonian Empire began to multiply. The pantheon came to have a number of triads of gods, or deities. One such triad was composed of Anu (the god of the sky), Enlil (the god of the earth, air, and storm), and Ea (the god presiding over the waters). Another triad was that of the moon-god Sin, the sun-god Shamash, and the fertility goddess Ishtar, the lover or consort of Tammuz. (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 529) The Babylonians even had triads of devils, such as the triad of Labartu, Labasu, and Akhkhazu. The worship of heavenly bodies became prominent (Isa 47:13), and various planets came to be associated with certain deities. The planet Jupiter was identified with the chief god of Babylon, Marduk; Venus with Ishtar, a goddess of love and fertility; Saturn with Ninurta, a god of war and hunting and patron of agriculture; Mercury with Nebo, a god of wisdom and agriculture; Mars with Nergal, a god of war and pestilence and lord of the underworld.
The cities of ancient Babylonia came to have their own special guardian deities, somewhat like “patron saints.” In Ur it was Sin; in Eridu, Ea; in Nippur, Enlil; in Cuthah, Nergal; in Borsippa, Nebo, and in the city of Babylon, Marduk (Merodach). At the time that Hammurabi made Babylon the capital of Babylonia, the importance of the city’s favorite god Marduk was, of course, enhanced. Finally Marduk was given the attribute of earlier gods and displaced them in the Babylonian myths. In later periods his proper name “Marduk” was supplanted by the title “Belu” (“Owner”), so that finally he was commonly spoken of as Bel. His wife was called Belit (“Mistress,” par excellence).—See BEL; NEBO No. 4.
The picture portrayed of the gods and goddesses in ancient Babylonian texts is but a reflection of sinful mortal man. These accounts say that the deities were born, loved, had families, fought, and even died, as did Tammuz. Terrified by the Deluge, they are said to have ‘crouched like dogs.’ The deities were also portrayed as being greedy, frequently eating to the point of gluttony, and drinking to the point of intoxication. They had furious tempers and were vindictive and suspicious of one another. Bitter hatreds existed among them. To illustrate: Tiamat, bent on destroying the other gods, was overcome by Marduk, who split her into two halves, forming the sky with one half and using the other half in connection with the establishment of the earth. Eresh-Kigal, the goddess of the underworld, instructed Namtaru, the god of pestilence, to imprison her sister Ishtar and afflict her with 60 miseries.—See NERGAL.
The above gives some indication of the environment that faithful Abraham left behind when he went out from the Chaldean city of Ur, which was then steeped in Babylonian idolatry. (Ge 11:31; 12:1; Jos 24:2, 14, 15) Centuries later, it was into Babylon, “a land of graven images” and filthy “dungy idols,” that thousands of Jewish captives were thrust.—Jer 50:1, 2, 38; 2Ki chap 25.
Assyrian Deities. Generally speaking, the Assyrian gods and goddesses are identical with the Babylonian deities. However, one deity, Asshur, the chief god, seems to have been peculiar to the Assyrian pantheon. Since Assyria takes its name from Asshur, it has been suggested that this god is actually Shem’s son named Asshur, deified by false worshipers.—Ge 10:21, 22.
Unlike the Babylonian Marduk, who was also worshiped in Assyria but whose seat of worship always remained in the city of Babylon, Asshur’s seat of worship changed as the kings of Assyria took up official residence in other cities. Also, sanctuaries to Asshur were built in various parts of Assyria. A military standard was Asshur’s primary symbol, and this was carried right into the thick of the battle. The winged circle, or disk, from which the figure of a bearded man often emerges, represented the god Asshur. At times the human figure is shown as holding a bow or in the act of shooting an arrow. Another representation of Asshur suggests a triad concept. In addition to the central figure emerging from the circle, two human heads are shown on top of the wings, one on either side of the central figure.—See PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 529; ASSYRIA; NISROCH.
It was among such Assyrians that exiles of the northern ten-tribe kingdom found themselves following Samaria’s fall in 740 B.C.E. (2Ki 17:1-6) Later, the prophet Nahum foretold the fall of Nineveh (capital of Assyria) and its gods, which destruction came in 632 B.C.E.—Na 1:1, 14.
Egyptian Deities. The gods and goddesses worshiped by the Egyptians give evidence of an underlying Babylonian heritage. There were triads of deities and even triple triads, or “enneads.” One of the popular triads consisted of Osiris, his consort Isis, and their son Horus.—PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 529.
Osiris was the most popular of the Egyptian gods and was regarded as the son of the earth-god Geb and the sky-goddess Nut. It was said that Osiris became the husband of Isis and reigned as king over Egypt. The mythological accounts tell of Osiris’ being murdered by his brother Set and then being restored to life, becoming the judge and king of the dead. The relationship of Osiris and Isis and their respective characteristics strikingly correspond to the relationship and characteristics of the Babylonian Tammuz and Ishtar. Hence, numerous scholars consider them to be identical.
Mother-and-son worship was also very popular in Egypt. Isis is often portrayed with the infant Horus on her knees. This representation is so much like that of the Madonna and child that certain ones in Christendom have at times venerated it in ignorance. (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 529) With respect to the god Horus, there is evidence of the distortion of the Edenic promise concerning the seed that would bruise the serpent in the head. (Ge 3:15) At times Horus is depicted as trampling crocodiles and grasping snakes and scorpions. According to one account, when Horus proceeded to avenge the death of his father Osiris, Set, who had murdered Osiris, changed himself into a serpent.
On Egyptian sculptures and paintings the sacred symbol, the crux ansata, occurs very frequently. This so-called sign of life looks like the letter “T” with an oval handle on top and probably represented the male and female organs of reproduction combined. The Egyptian deities are often depicted as holding the crux ansata.—PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 530.
Many were the creatures venerated as sacred by the Egyptians. These included the bull, the cat, the cow, the crocodile, the falcon, the frog, the hippopotamus, the ibis, the jackal, the lion, the ram, the scarab, the scorpion, the serpent, the vulture, and the wolf. However, some of these were sacred in one part of Egypt and not in another, this, at times, even resulting in the outbreak of civil wars. Not only were animals sacred to certain gods, but some of them were even viewed as incarnations of a god or goddess. The Apis bull, for instance, was regarded as the very incarnation of the god Osiris and also an emanation of the god Ptah.
According to Herodotus (II, 65-67), a person killing a sacred animal deliberately was put to death; if the killing of the animal was by accident, the priests stipulated a fine. However, one killing an ibis or a hawk, whether intentionally or not, was put to death, usually at the hands of an enraged mob. When a cat died, all in the household shaved their eyebrows, whereas at the death of a dog they shaved their entire body. Sacred animals were mummified and given elaborate burials. Among the mummified animals that have been found are the bull, the cat, the crocodile, and the falcon, to mention but a few.
The mythological accounts portray the Egyptian deities as having human weaknesses and imperfections. They were said to have experienced anguish and fright and repeatedly found themselves in peril. The god Osiris was slain. Horus, in childhood, was said to have suffered from internal pains, headaches, and dysentery and to have died from a scorpion’s sting, but then was said to have been restored to life. Isis was believed to have suffered from abscess of the breast. With advancing years, it was taught, the strength of the sun-god Ra waned and saliva dripped from his mouth. His very life was in jeopardy after being bitten by a magical serpent formed by Isis, although he recovered as a result of Isis’ words of magic. Sekhmet, a goddess representing the destructive power of the sun, was depicted as being bloodthirsty. She took such delight in killing men that Ra was said to have feared for the future of the human race. To save humankind from extermination, Ra distributed 7,000 jugs of a beer and pomegranate mixture over the battlefield. Thinking it to be human blood, Sekhmet drank it ardently until too intoxicated to continue her slaughter. Nephthys was said to have got her brother Osiris, the husband of her sister Isis, drunk and then had relations with him. The sun-gods Tem and Horus were portrayed as masturbators.
Interestingly, when Pharaoh constituted Joseph second ruler of the land of Egypt, Joseph was thus elevated over the worshipers of Egypt’s false gods.—Ge 41:37-44.
The Ten Plagues. By means of the plagues he visited upon the Egyptians, Jehovah humiliated and executed judgment upon their gods. (Ex 12:12; Nu 33:4; PICTURES, Vol. 2, p. 530) The first plague, the turning of the Nile and all the waters of Egypt into blood, brought disgrace to the Nile-god Hapi. The death of the fish in the Nile was also a blow to Egypt’s religion, for certain kinds of fish were actually venerated and even mummified. (Ex 7:19-21) The frog, regarded as a symbol of fertility and the Egyptian concept of resurrection, was considered sacred to the frog-goddess Heqt. Hence, the plague of frogs brought disgrace to this goddess. (Ex 8:5-14) The third plague saw the magic-practicing priests acknowledging defeat when they proved to be unable by means of their secret arts to turn dust into gnats. (Ex 8:16-19) The god Thoth was credited with the invention of magic or secret arts, but even this god could not help the magic-practicing priests to duplicate the third plague.
The line of demarcation between the Egyptians and the worshipers of the true God came to be sharply drawn from the fourth plague onward. While swarms of gadflies invaded the homes of the Egyptians, the Israelites in the land of Goshen were not affected. (Ex 8:23, 24) The next plague, the pestilence upon the livestock, humiliated such deities as the cow-goddess Hathor, Apis, and the sky-goddess Nut, who was conceived of as a cow having the stars affixed to her belly. (Ex 9:1-6) The plague of boils brought disgrace to the gods and goddesses regarded as possessing healing abilities, such as Thoth, Isis, and Ptah. (Ex 9:8-11) The severe hailstorm put to shame the gods who were considered to have control of the natural elements; for example, Reshpu, who, it appears, was believed to control lightning, and Thoth, who was said to have power over the rain and thunder. (Ex 9:22-26) The locust plague spelled defeat for the gods thought to ensure a bountiful harvest, one of these being the fertility god Min, who was viewed as a protector of the crops. (Ex 10:12-15) Among the deities disgraced by the plague of darkness were sun-gods, such as Ra and Horus, and also Thoth the god of the moon and believed to be the systematizer of sun, moon, and stars.—Ex 10:21-23.
The death of the firstborn resulted in the greatest humiliation for the Egyptian gods and goddesses. (Ex 12:12) The rulers of Egypt actually styled themselves as gods, the sons of Ra, or Amon-Ra. It was claimed that Ra, or Amon-Ra, had intercourse with the queen. The son born was, therefore, viewed as a god incarnate and was dedicated to Ra, or Amon-Ra, at his temple. Hence, the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn, in effect, actually meant the death of a god. (Ex 12:29) This in itself would have been a severe blow to Egypt’s religion, and the complete impotence of all the deities was manifested in their being unable to save the firstborn of the Egyptians from death.—See AMON No. 4.
Canaanite Deities. Extrabiblical sources indicate that the god El was considered to be the creator and sovereign. Although El seems to have been somewhat remote from earthly affairs, he is repeatedly shown as being approached by the other deities with requests. El is depicted as a rebellious son that dethroned and castrated his own father, and also as a bloody tyrant, a murderer, and an adulterer. In the Ras Shamra texts El is referred to as “father bull” and is represented as having gray hair and a gray beard. His consort was Asherah, who is referred to as the progenitress of the gods, whereas El is placed in the role of progenitor of the gods.
Most prominent of the Canaanite gods, however, was the fertility god Baal, a deity of the sky and of rain and storm. (Jg 2:12, 13) In the Ras Shamra texts, Baal is often called the son of Dagon, though El is also spoken of as his father. Baal’s sister Anath is shown referring to El as her father and he, in turn, calls her his daughter. Hence, Baal probably was regarded as the son of El, though he may also have been viewed as El’s grandson. In the mythological accounts Baal is depicted as assaulting and triumphing over Yamm, the god who presided over the water and who seems to have been El’s favorite or beloved son. But Baal is slain in his conflict with Mot, who was viewed as a son of El and the god of death and aridity. Thus, Canaan, like Babylon, had its god who died a violent death and thereafter was restored to life.—See BAAL No. 4.
Anath, Asherah, and Ashtoreth are the principal goddesses mentioned in the Ras Shamra texts. However, there appears to have been a considerable overlapping in the roles of these goddesses. In Syria, where the Ras Shamra texts were found, Anath may have been viewed as Baal’s wife, since she, though repeatedly referred to as “maiden,” is shown as having intercourse with Baal. But the Scriptural record mentions only Ashtoreth and the sacred pole, or Asherah, in connection with Baal. Hence, at times Asherah and then again Ashtoreth may have been regarded as wives of Baal.—Jg 2:13; 3:7; 10:6; 1Sa 7:4; 12:10; 1Ki 18:19; see ASHTORETH; SACRED PILLAR; SACRED POLE.
The references to Anath in the Ras Shamra texts give some indication of the degraded conception of the deities that the Canaanites undoubtedly shared with the Syrians. Anath is described as the fairest among Baal’s sisters, but as having an extremely violent temper. She is depicted as threatening to smash the skull of her father, El, and cause his gray hair to flow with blood and his gray beard with gore if he did not comply with her wishes. On another occasion Anath is shown going on a killing spree. She attached heads to her back, and hands to her girdle, and she plunged knee-deep in the blood and hip-deep in the gore of valiant ones. Her delight in such bloodshed is reflected in the words: “Her liver swells with laughter, her heart fills up with joy.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, pp. 136, 137, 142, 152.
The extremely base and degraded nature of Canaanite worship underscores the justness of God’s executing a decree of destruction upon the inhabitants of the land. (Le 18; De 9:3, 4) However, because the Israelites failed to carry out that divine decree completely, they eventually became ensnared by the degenerate practices associated with the worship of Canaanite gods.—Ps 106:34-43; see also CANAAN, CANAANITE No. 2.
Deities of Medo-Persia. The indications are that the kings of the Medo-Persian Empire were Zoroastrians. While it cannot be proved or disproved that Cyrus the Great adhered to the teachings of Zoroaster, from the time of Darius I the inscriptions of the monarchs repeatedly refer to Ahura Mazda, the principal deity of Zoroastrianism. Darius I referred to Ahura Mazda as the creator of heaven, earth, and man, and he looked to this god as the one who had bestowed upon him wisdom, physical skillfulness, and the kingdom.
A characteristic feature of Zoroastrianism is dualism, that is, the belief in two independent divine beings, one good and the other evil. Ahura Mazda was viewed as the creator of all good things, whereas Angra Mainyu was regarded as the creator of all that is evil. It was thought that the latter could bring about earthquakes, storms, disease, and death as well as stir up unrest and war. Lesser spirits were believed to assist these two gods in carrying out their functions.
The symbol of the god Ahura Mazda was much like the representation of the Assyrian Asshur, namely, a winged circle, from which, at times, a bearded man with the vertical tail of a bird emerges.
Ahura Mazda may have figured in a triad. This is suggested by the fact that Artaxerxes Mnemon invoked the protection of Ahura Mazda, Anahita (a goddess of water and of fertility), and Mithra (a god of light), and he attributed his reconstruction of the Hall of Columns at Susa to the grace of these three deities.
A number of scholars have linked Anahita with the Babylonian Ishtar. Observes E. O. James in his book The Cult of the Mother-Goddess (1959, p. 94): “She was worshipped as ‘the Great Goddess whose name is Lady’, the ‘all-powerful immaculate one’, purifying ‘the seed of males and the womb and the milk of females’. . . . She was, in fact, the Iranian counterpart of the Syrian Anat, the Babylonian Inanna-Ishtar, the Hittite goddess of Comana, and the Greek Aphrodite.”
According to the Greek historian Herodotus (I, 131), the Persians also worshiped the natural elements and heavenly bodies. He writes: “As to the usages of the Persians, I know them to be these. It is not their custom to make and set up statues and temples and altars, but those who make such they deem foolish, as I suppose, because they never believed the gods, as do the Greeks, to be in the likeness of men; but they call the whole circle of heaven Zeus, and to him they offer sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains; they sacrifice also to the sun and moon and earth and fire and water and winds. These are the only gods to whom they have ever sacrificed from the beginning; they have learnt later, to sacrifice to the ‘heavenly’ Aphrodite, from the Assyrians and Arabians. She is called by the Assyrians Mylitta, by the Arabians Alilat, by the Persians Mitra.”
The Zend-Avesta, the sacred Zoroastrian writings, actually contain prayers to fire, to water, and to planets as well as to the light of the sun, moon, and stars. Fire is even referred to as the son of Ahura Mazda.
Although he may have been a Zoroastrian, King Cyrus was named in Bible prophecy as the one appointed by Jehovah to overthrow Babylon and bring about the release of the Jewish captives. (Isa 44:26–45:7; compare Pr 21:1.) Following Babylon’s destruction in 539 B.C.E., the Israelites came under the control of the Zoroastrian Medo-Persians.
Grecian Deities. An examination of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece reveals the traces of Babylonian influence. Observed Oxford University Professor George Rawlinson: “The striking resemblance of the Chaldaean system to that of the Classical Mythology seems worthy of particular attention. This resemblance is too general, and too close in some respects, to allow of the supposition that mere accident has produced the coincidence. In the Pantheons of Greece and Rome, and in that of Chaldaea, the same general grouping is to be recognized; the same genealogical succession is not unfrequently to be traced; and in some cases even the familiar names and titles of classical divinities admit of the most curious illustration and explanation from Chaldaean sources. We can scarcely doubt but that, in some way or other, there was a communication of beliefs—a passage in very early times, from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the lands washed by the Mediterranean, of mythological notions and ideas.”—The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, 1885, Vol. I, pp. 71, 72.
A distortion of God’s statement concerning the seed of promise may possibly be noted in the mythological accounts that tell of the god Apollo’s killing the serpent Python, and of the infant Hercules’ (the son of Zeus and an earthly woman, Alcmene) strangling two serpents. The familiar theme of a god who dies and then is restored to life again confronts us. Annually the violent death of Adonis and his return to life were commemorated; it was principally the women who bewailed his death and who carried images of his body as in funeral procession and later tossed them into the sea or springs. Another deity whose violent death and restoration to life were celebrated by the Greeks was Dionysus, or Bacchus; he, like Adonis, has been identified with the Babylonian Tammuz.
The mythological accounts make the Grecian gods and goddesses appear much like men and women. Although the gods were thought to be of much greater size and to exceed men in beauty and strength, their bodies were depicted as human bodies. Since their veins supposedly flowed with “ichor,” rather than blood, the bodies of the deities were considered to be incorruptible. Nevertheless, it was believed that men, by means of their weapons, could actually inflict painful wounds upon the gods. However, it was said that the wounds always healed and that the gods remained youthful.
For the most part, the deities of the Greeks are depicted as being very immoral and as having human weaknesses. They quarreled among themselves, fought against one another, and even conspired against one another. Zeus, the supreme god of the Greeks, is said to have dethroned his own father Cronus. Earlier, Cronus himself had deposed and even castrated his father Uranus. Both Uranus and Cronus are depicted as cruel fathers. Uranus immediately concealed in the earth the offspring borne to him by his wife Gaea, not even permitting them to see the light. Cronus, on the other hand, swallowed the children borne to him by Rhea. Among the detestable practices attributed to certain deities are adultery, fornication, incest, rape, lying, thievery, drunkenness, and murder. Those who incurred the disfavor of a god or goddess are depicted as being punished in a most cruel manner. For example, the satyr Marsyas, who challenged the god Apollo to a musical contest, was attached by the latter to a tree trunk and skinned alive. The goddess Artemis is said to have changed the hunter Actaeon into a stag and then caused his own hounds to devour him, this because he had seen her nakedness.
Of course, some claimed that these mythological accounts were merely the imaginations of the poets. But on this, Augustine wrote in the fifth century C.E.: “For whereas it is said in their defence, that these tales of their gods were not true, but merely poetical inventions, and false fictions, why this doth make it more abominable, if you respect the purity of your religion: and if you observe the malice of the devil, what more cunning or more deceitful craftiness can there be? For when an honest and worthy ruler of a country is slandered, is not the slander so much more wicked and unpardonable, as this party’s life that is slandered is clearer and sounder from touch of any such matter?” (The City of God, Book II, chap IX) However, the popularity of the poetical accounts as enacted on the Greek stage indicates that the majority did not regard them as slander, but were in harmony with them. The immorality of the gods served to justify man’s wrongdoing, and this found favor with the people.—See GREECE, GREEKS (Greek Religion).
The apostle Paul’s ministry brought him in contact with worshipers of the Grecian gods Zeus and Hermes. (Ac 14:12, 13) The Athenians expressed their fear of the deities by building many temples and altars. (Ac 17:22-29) The gross sexual immorality that was a part of Grecian worship even affected the Christian congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul finding it necessary to rebuke that congregation.—1Co chap 5.
Roman Deities. The religion of the Romans was greatly influenced by the Etruscans, a people generally thought to have come from Asia Minor. The practice of divination definitely links the religion of the Etruscans to that of the Babylonians. For example, the models of clay livers used for divination found in Mesopotamia resemble the bronze model of a liver found at Piacenza in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy. So, when the Romans adopted the Etruscan deities they were, in effect, receiving a Babylonian heritage. (See ASTROLOGERS.) The Roman triad of Jupiter (the supreme god, a god of the sky and light), Juno (the consort of Jupiter regarded as presiding over matters of particular concern to women), and Minerva (a goddess presiding over all handicrafts) corresponds to the Etruscan Tinia, Uni, and Menrva.
In the course of time, the prominent Greek gods found their way into the Roman pantheon, although they were known by different names. Also, deities of still other lands were adopted by the Romans, including the Persian Mithras (whose birthday was celebrated on December 25) and the Phrygian fertility goddess Cybele and the Egyptian Isis, both of whom have been identified with the Babylonian Ishtar. Then, too, the Roman emperors themselves were deified.
Saturn was worshiped for bringing a golden age to Rome. The Saturnalia, originally a one-day festival in his honor, was later expanded into a seven-day celebration in the latter half of December. The event was marked by great revelry. Gifts, such as waxen fruits and candles, were exchanged, and clay dolls were especially given to the children. During the festival, no punishment was meted out. Schools and courts had a holiday; even war operations were brought to a halt. Slaves exchanged places with their masters and were permitted, without needing to fear punishment, to give free rein to the tongue.
The early Christians refused to participate in Roman worship, particularly worship of the emperor, which made them objects of intense persecution. They were uncompromising in their stand to “obey God as ruler rather than men,” refusing to give to Roman rulers the worship that rightfully belonged to God.—Ac 5:29; Mr 12:17; see ROME (Religion).
Gods of Nations Contrasted With Jehovah. Today many of the gods mentioned in the Bible are little more than a name. Although their worshipers at times even sacrificed their own children to them, the false gods were unable to rescue those who looked to them for aid in time of need. (2Ki 17:31) Hence, in the face of his military successes, the king of Assyria, through his spokesman Rabshakeh, boasted: “Have the gods of the nations at all delivered each one his own land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are there among all the gods of the lands that have delivered their land out of my hand, so that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (2Ki 18:28, 31-35) But Jehovah did not fail his people as had those false gods. In one night the angel of Jehovah killed 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. Humiliated, the proud Assyrian monarch Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, later to be murdered by two of his sons in the temple of his god Nisroch. (2Ki 19:17-19, 35-37) Truly, “all the gods of the peoples are valueless gods; but as for Jehovah, he has made the very heavens.”—Ps 96:5.
Not only do the false gods have the characteristics of their makers, but people also become much like the gods whom they worship. To illustrate: King Manasseh of Judah was devoted to false gods, even to the point of making his son pass through the fire. But Manasseh’s zealous pursuit of false worship did not make him a better king. Rather, he proved to be like the bloodthirsty deities he worshiped, shedding innocent blood in very great quantity. (2Ki 21:1-6, 16) In sharp contrast with this, worshipers of the true God endeavor to be imitators of their Perfect Maker, displaying the fruitage of his spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control.—Eph 5:1; Ga 5:22, 23.